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Veteran Texas Longhorns DBs facing critical spring

For some current members of the Horns secondary, the upcoming weeks could heavily determine 2015 playing time.

Senior cornerback Sheroid Evans
Senior cornerback Sheroid Evans
Harry How/Getty Images

The Texas Longhorns are looking for two new starters in the defensive backfield after Quandre Diggs and Mykkele Thompson graduated, providing an opportunity for veterans to make an impression this spring.

But make no mistake -- it could be now or never for some of the those players with a strong defensive back class arriving in June that includes No. 7 cornerback Holton Hill and No. 11 cornerback Kris Boyd, along with four-star cornerback Davante Davis, Under Armour All-American safety DeShon Elliott, and potential nickel back PJ Locke, the late flip from Oregon.

In total, it's the most talented group of cornerbacks and safeties the Longhorns have signed in years.

Here are the players who will try to use the 15 spring practices to boost their candidacies for those two open spots before the 2015 signees get to Austin and start taking reps from older players.

Sheroid Evans, senior cornerback -- Perhaps the leading contender among the veteran players to earn a starting role at cornerback, the No. 3 safety from the 2011 class by 247Sports missed all of the 2014 season after suffering an ACL tear in October of 2013 against Iowa State. At the time of his injury, he looked poised for a breakout junior season.

The continued problem moving forward? Injuries have slowed the progression of Evans for years, dating back to his prep days at Fort Bend Dulles. All the physical skills are there, assuming that the elite speed that made him a high school track star in the 200m and 400m is still there after all the leg injuries over the years.

After redshirting last season to preserve his final year of eligibility, it truly is now or never for Evans.

Bryson Echols, junior cornerback -- Mostly a special teams player over the last two seasons, Echols managed to cut down on his major mistakes in that phase in 2014. He even got a start against Texas Tech -- the only start of his career -- and responded with a career-high seven tackles, a forced fumble, and a pass defensed.

At 184 pounds, he's not quite stout enough to handle the nickel back duties, so he'll have to compete with Evans for the open corner position vacated by Thompson. In pure physical skills, he's not likely to win that battle, which could force him to stay in a reserve role once again.

Adrian Colbert, junior safety -- Passed on the depth chart by former walk on Dylan Haines and lightly-regarded freshman Jason Hall, it was always going to take some time for Colbert as a raw prospect out of high school, but he's increasingly running out of it. He was a frequent target of the coaching staff for poor play when he was on the field at safety last year and didn't do much to help his cause on special teams, though he did help down two punts inside the 5-yard line against West Virginia.

Will the light finally come on for him? His high school highlights suggest that the physical skills are there. The speed, the striking ability. It just hasn't come together yet at Texas.

Antwuan Davis, sophomore cornerback -- As with Colbert and Evans, the speed is there for Davis, as evidenced by his third-place finish in the 100m at the state track meet in 2013. However, persistent questions about his fluidity continue and his 2014 season ended early as a result of an ankle injury.

The expectations aren't especially high for Davis at this point, but this is a guy who ran a 10.34 100m in high school, was a consensus four-star prospect and a US Army All-American. Like so many other players on this list, the raw tools are there.

John Bonney, redshirt freshman cornerback -- A crucial piece of the 2014 recruiting class because the Longhorns missed on so many other in-state targets at defensive back, Bonney's decision about whether to stick with his pledge to Texas or sign with Baylor went down to the wire.

Capable of playing either safety or cornerback, he worked at cornerback last year and could be a candidate for the open nickel back position. His speed isn't elite (he ran a verified 4.62 40-yard dash in high school), but he did record a 4.10 shuttle that indicates he has the change-of-direction ability necessary to replace Diggs in the nickel.

Jermaine Roberts, redshirt freshman cornerback -- Undersized at 5'9, Roberts is a playmaker despite his stature with 15 interceptions over his last two years of high school. Even though the former Under Armour All-American may not be ready to crack the cornerback rotation in 2015, he is a candidate to earn a role as a return man after returning three kickoffs for touchdowns in 2012 and 2013.

The other two scholarship defensive backs who will also compete for playing time are junior safety Kevin Vaccaro and sophomore safety Erik Huhn. Both are basically occupying scholarships at this point and don't look like serious contenders to do anything more than play on a special teams unit or two. Vaccaro hasn't seen the field at safety in his time on campus and Huhn missed most of the last three seasons with injury, making him a candidate to take a medical redshirt if he's not recovered this spring.